Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas is retiring on September 17. | File photo

Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas officially announced he will retire on Sept. 17 after 30 years with the Forest Park Police Department, the last six as chief.

“Where did the time go?” asked Aftanas as he spoke about his time in the department, which he joined in 1991, his first full-time position after serving with the reserve department in Stickney.

He almost took a different path though. In 1990, he was hired by the state police with the plan of becoming a state trooper. Graduating from college in May with a degree in administration of justice, Aftanas was set to begin the state academy in June. But just prior to his start-date, he was told a hiring freeze had been implemented due to budget cuts. So he had to change plans.

Two years later, he was offered the position with the state, but by that time, he didn’t want to leave Forest Park.

Aftanas grew up near Midway Airport, where lots of Chicago police and firefighters lived, and that exposure, he said, inspired his career choice. When he was 7, he wanted to get a birthday present for his brother, so he left the house on his own to go to the store without telling anyone. His mother couldn’t find him and called the police, who picked him up and brought him home. “That’s why you’re a police officer,” she always said.

Police Chief Tom Aftanas, in the back, during the Real Men Read campaign at Field Stevenson School in 2019. | File photo

Aftanas worked his way up through the department over the years, supervising the department’s detective division and, in 2006, becoming deputy chief. That was an appointment made by former chief Jim Ryan, and Aftanas laughed when he told the story.

“Ryan took me out to lunch and told me I was going to be deputy chief,” Aftanas said. “He told me, ‘You have no choice.’”

Nine years later, when Ryan retired, Aftanas was recommended by former Mayor Tony Calderone and unanimously approved by the village council as chief of the police department. During Aftanas’ promotion ceremony, Calderone said, “I feel the utmost confidence that you are going to continue to lead this police department from the foundation it was built on with the experience that you had serving as the deputy chief of police for the last nine years.”

And he did. Known for his even temper, strong leadership, and dry humor, Aftanas is considered an exceptional leader by those he works with.

“He’s led the department with intelligence and really fostered a sense of community. He’s a very good leader,” said Mayor Rory Hoskins.

“You know, it might be time to leave when you look around the department and realize you’re the last man standing,” Aftanas said. “I’ve been here longer than anyone else.”

While his plans for retirement are still forming, Aftanas said he’s going to use some vacation time before his official last day on the job, and Deputy Chief Ken Gross will be acting chief in his absence.

Gross is also Aftanas’ recommendation to fill the permanent position of chief, a recommendation he said he’s formally made to Hoskins, who, as mayor, will appoint the next chief with village council approval.

Hoskins has said he plans to recommend Gross to the council as the next chief.